Networking for renewables: local resources and innovative technologies in rural development (A first case study from Finland)
Department of Geography Faculty of Social Sciences and Regional Studies, University of Joensuu, Finland Joensuu, Finland
Many rural-peripheral regions have been caught in a vicious circle of marginalization. The diminishing prospects for financially feasible agri-/silvicultural activities and the lack of alternative jobs cause the emigration of especially the higher qualified active population and this regional brain-drain causes tax revenues to decline. This leads to diminishing infrastructural investments, which in turn, further depletes the region?s attractiveness. However, some rural areas may be able to reverse this cycle by innovative restructuring and adaptation to emerging conditions: the renewable energy sector is able to open good prospects in this situation. The main question of my research is: what could be a suitable social (societal-institutional, technological, development-political) framework which can ensure that these potential prospects are actually realised?
The central-eastern part of Finland has encountered these problems. Global changes (internationalisation of the forest industry, rising energy prices, the climate change, and technological innovations) are having a profound effect on this agro-forest economy and society; also, they are stimulating innovation in different ways. This process is embedded in the context that here, forests are not only a main source of income and principal context of economic activities but also an important and lasting part of regional and cultural identity, social relations and traditions. The social, cultural, economic and environmental conditions and consequences of the recent, globally experienced transformations are interrelated. As a result, many challenges have arisen but also, several opportunities are offered to the actors engaged in regional/local development.
The paper gives a summary of these interrelated processes, a brief review of the significance and recent developments of the wood energy sector in the Finnish region, and a first account on the empirical research carried out in the autumn of 2008. Meanwhile, the focus is on different forms of networking, ranging from business and technological networks to cross-sectoral co-operation and more informal social networks ? relating them, as a key finding, to the possible emergence of ?networked peripheries?. Another pronounced objective of this paper is to propose different applicable analytical tools and methods which are suitable to triangulate research findings, and which may be employed in further comparative regional case studies.